Dead reckoning

Charles 3 Comments

No UK funeral director ever went far wrong by slapping a more or less stonking margin on the price of a coffin. Coffins are much cheaper to make than almost anyone would realise. An oak foil veneer MDF coffin with a trade price of £50 looks to any uneducated eye as if it’s easily worth £250. This being so, most funeral directors ‘bury’ some of what they call their professional fee in the cost of the coffin. It makes them look like better value.

It doesn’t necessarily make them exploitative however bad it may look (when you find out). They are spreading, not adding, remember. And UK funerals are not so expensive that people want to bypass funeral directors by whatever means they can. Over here, we can have a decent funeral for a little over £2,500. In the US it’s difficult to reel away with any change from £6,000.

There’s nothing to stop anyone here from saving themselves a few bob by buying a coffin direct from the manufacturer – if they can find anyone to sell them one. Most won’t. In the US, however, there’s more urgent demand and a growing online marketplace. You can buy a coffin (okay, casket) at Walmart and Costco.

Because US undertakers also ‘bury’ some of their professional fee in the cost of the casket, it embarrasses them financially when any client proposes to supply their own. There’s an amusing recent tale in a Chicago paper of a dodgy sod of a funeral director who throws all manner of preposterous objections in the way of a client who discovers she can save $1,600 by sourcing her own casket and burial vault. You can read it here.

UK funeral directors price their services and merchandise in such a way that they could never make a living if people did not buy a complete package. This is why the itemised price lists of the majority are not itemised in a way we understand by itemised. If, say, you tell them that you will not need bearers to carry the coffin, then ask how much that will be off the bill, there’s every chance you will be told that bearers are part of the professional fee (you’ll pay for them anyway).

There are precious few truly itemised, fully transparent price lists out there. So let’s hear it for Paul Sullivan, a brave new start-up in Dover, whose price list is as transparent as it gets, whose coffin prices are very fair and whose bearers are optional. See it here.

You can pick from Paul’s list, jot down the figures, do the maths. You’ll get only what you pay for. Hurrah. This is very empowering for clients. Paul and his ilk might even like to go a step further and offer what Basic Cremations of Milton, Ontario, provide on their website. They call it a Quote Builder. You check what you want, it keeps a running score and, at the end, gives you a bottom line. I love it. See it here.

The reluctance of so many UK funeral directors to take to the Web has become risibly absurd. People expect to be able to price shop online. Wakey wakey!


  1. Charles

    I thought Pauls price was to indepth for a web site, and his website had far to much information. Who really cares who he married, or when he met his wife, his career etc. As long as he provides the service he does with dignity and many wouldn't understand most of it and would still go to the big guys….

    It's always being said that a family run business of 3 generations means nothing. Read the US blogs they "quote" it all the time, it's much the same here as many are now under the Umberella of the corporates anyway.

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